April 01, 2013

Fire and Ice: An Associate’s View of Partners

Partners should deliver more mentoring and less attitude.

Joseph J. Mamounas

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Sometimes, we are the best of allies, selflessly and harmoniously working toward a common goal: victory and vindication for clients. And sometimes, we simply are not capable of communicating. Our relationship becomes distorted by disappointment and resentment.

We resolve our clients’ conflicts by pitching their best case to a neutral arbiter. But there is no neutral arbiter in conflicts between associates and partners. And for associates, that translates into frustration. The partners hold all the cards. They can bawl us out, and we must not respond. When we make our best lame excuses, that just enrages the partner more. If there is a better way, few of us have found it.

We associates feel that the partners expect us to finish all our billable work on time, to meet all our billable goals for the year, to do pro bono work when we can, and to write an article or two in our “spare time.” (“It’s good for your career development, my dear.”) As for a personal life—well, partners make us feel that we are ingrates when we even expect to have one. (“I don’t care if it is your first wedding anniversary.”)

And then they suggest we politic within the firm by sucking up to that old curmudgeon who has not given us a lick of work all year. He won’t even acknowledge us in the halls, and we have no idea why. Did we do a lousy job on the last piece of work he gave us? Has he forgotten our names? Is our status beneath his notice? (“Hey, it’s good for your in-firm client development; after all, the partners are your clients. They are the ones who give you work. How do you expect them to do that if they don’t know you? Get them to like you. Respect may follow.”)

As we stew in our paranoia, you lecture us about our client development.

So, partners, now hear this: This is what we associates need from you.

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